South Korea

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About 3 nights before we were due to fly to Seoul, South Korea, the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un advised tourists in Seoul to evacuate. I was fiiiine about going to Seoul before that point, but that little mini barely there threat under the guise of advice was pretty scary. Let’s just say it gave me pause.

I’ve been to a few places where people use the word brave ( or stupid) to describe, but I’ve only been afraid twice before. I didn’t want to be afraid this time either, and wasn’t really, but I almost was. What if this time was the time I got involved in a nuclear war?

Eh. Don’t worry about it. That was the message both Ryan and my innards ended up giving me, and I went with it, all the way to South Korea.

And Thank God. It was wonderful.

We actually flew in about a half an hour before John Kerry ( Secretary of state for those playing at home…) but were less concerned with this than by the fact that I was entering my 50th Country.

Getting past immigration has never felt this good!! I felt amazing. Ryan helped by screaming “50 countries!” and giving me a massive bear hug! Got a few looks…

There was a amazingly welcome 10 degree temperature drop,  the air felt clean and crisp, and people were all pretty and wearing jackets…  We got on a bus and it felt fancier than the plane we were just in. We felt great about South Korea right from the get go.

I had chosen this hotel, and it had pretty huge expectations to live up to for the both of us- The Sheraton Seoul D Cube City Hotel.

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Wheesh.

Ranked #1 out of 379 hotels on tripadvisor. Amazing hotel. The only small downside to this hotel was the pool area, which was small and weird honestly, but everything else was grade A++.

When we first got there we rushed upstairs for the platinum club check in cos, well, we were celebrating and we wanted to do it in style/for free… and the 2 hours of free food and drinks was ending in like 10 minutes.

So Ryan checked us in, and I got us drinks and food. Lots of both. Classy.

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We had a triangle squishy room for the first two nights, which was pretty awesome, and a bottle of wine to welcome us in, also very awesome.

The views were spectacular. We were on the 40th floor, and we felt like we could see everything.

Seoul from this angle looked like a strange future city, mixed with a little bit of old Asia- huge buildings everywhere you look, all off white, some quite dirty, both for business and lot and lots of apartment buildings. Almost all the buildings had helipads. Seoul is huge.

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The hotel is actually situated on top of a shopping centre, and after indulging in some wine, we headed downstairs to see what Seoul was all about.

It, apparently was about this;

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And, that’s about it.

Not really!

We were in Seoul for 5 nights, but it went really, really quickly.

Our highlights were:

Ryan surprised me on our second night  ( our 18 month anniversary) by organizing for the staff to have a bottle of wine and some of my favourite cheeses put into our room whilst we were out… and he doesn’t even like smushy cheese!! Really romantic and special.

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The hotel itself, where the service was impeccable. We would get greeted by name, nothing was too much trouble, they would try to make our lives the best lives we could have whilst in their care.  Which leads us to:

The people in general. From what we experienced from the everyday people on the street in Seoul, the excellent customer service is really just an extension of that. We would get waves, people saying hello, people making us take their seats in the subway if we had our backpacks on, people asking us where we were going to make sure we knew the way, asking us where we were from.

Ryan had to pee one night whilst we were walking around the streets, and he decided the subway was the best place to go, ( it was really late at night). When he got down into the subway, he discovered that the toilets were behind the closed barriers, but a homeless guy who was down there immediately leapt up and pushed the emergency button to open the barriers for him.

When we were eating a meal in a little street market, a homeless man came up and asked us for change ( we think…), before we really understood what was happening, a guy from a table across the way had jumped up and was walking the man away. He came back and apologized to us and told us that he really hopes that we are having a good time in his country.

In the same market, we were eating an amazing meal, and our table was quite close to another table with two guys. One of their phones started ringing, and it was the singer Psy’s latest song. Ryan sang the last part of the song, and the guys turned to us- “You know Psy????!” they were so amazed and impressed.

Right afterwards they received a meal which is quite famous in South Korea, and one that I’d been dying/dreading tasting. It’s an Octopus, taken alive out of water, dropped onto a hot grill, quickly chopped up with a hatchet into tiny pieces,  and then given to you on a plate. Still moving. Still moving for about 10 minutes.

These guys made sure that we had some.It looks like this:

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Except moving. That bits important.

The club  in the hotel was awesome. Two hours of free drinks, great, but also 2 hours of amazing and culturally relevant food. We sat in there a couple of nights and were watching the big screen tv at one end which was spouting forth all kinds of scary stuff from N. Korea. That felt pretty strange,  pretty abstract.

Some of the food:

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One night we met an English couple who were there for the dude’s work ( engineer in the gas industry I think?). We started talking with them and I got all excited about making friends, just like I was in a hostel, until Ryan and the dude went together to get some more drinks, and I asked the lady about the shopping trip she had evidently done today.

Fast forward to her asking me what my favourite brand of luxury watches were and how obviously I knew that I should never spend less than $1000 on a FAKE handbag. Waaaaaay out of my depth in that conversation.

We went to Gangnam, late one night, last minute, just cos we knew that we had to! It was pretty cool, lots of really hip bars and clubs ad stuff.

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Took photos in front of the sign, obviously.

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Insadong was a nice suburb, lots of little stores.

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The Subway was amazing. Quick and easy and everyone seemed happy although every single person on there would normally be on their Samsung.

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I saw one iPhone and silently cheered that person on. There was a little song that came on at each station which was super jingly and got in your head- in a good way.

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We went to Dongaemun and Namdaemun, both big markets, both situated near the old gates to the city. Namdaemun was where we ate the still-moving octopus, and was a big area full of open street markets.

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Dongdaemun  was massive and had shopping centres attached to the open markets which had stores that sold only one thing- hats, ties, scarves etc. Nearby was a part of the Cheonggyecheon stream, which is park of recent urban renewal, and used to be covered by a highway. It’s now a place where people take romantic walks, performances are given, etc. It’s a really pretty stream right through the middle of Seoul.

 

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It was near here that we stumbled across and amazing little food market where the ladies doing the cooking got us to sit down and eat this amazing pancake stuff ( we’re not 100% but we think they were Bindaetteok) and to die for Dumplings ( Mandu).

The men sitting next to us taught us how to dink Soju ( clear and colorless korean spirit)  and Makgeolli. The first is drunk neat and teh second out of a bowl. Makgeolli might just be Ryan’s favourite new drink- easy to drink, kinda tastes like a cross of sprite and milk.

The atmosphere here was so fantastic. Busy, smoky, really yummy smells, drunk business men stumblimg past. Loud, cramped. Wonderful. This was the first time we had had Kimchi as well. Admittedly, not a favourite. Sorry!

 

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We went to an orchid festival, which turned out just to be an almost empty island with some orchid’s on it.. still very pretty- see-

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We went to city hall and to the main city strip near all the embassies and were surprised by how many cops there were standing around- Ryan asked one of them if it was for something specific, and the cop answered that it was normal, so that people would feel safe.

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We also got dressed up like Koreans here.

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Our favourite suburb overall, I think was Hongdae- the student area. We went at a pretty non descript time, like a Wednesday afternoon or something, and it was super bustling, there was markets lining the sides of the road, loads of unique and different bars, café’s restaurants, and people everywhere. And a Hello Kitty cafe.

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We got some Bobba Tea, I bought a badass bright pink jumper, we passed a Hello Kitty Café, and we found a Cat Café. So awesome.

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You walk in, take your shoes off, buy an (overpriced, yes) drink, which they make in another room,  and you sit down and pat cats. Lots of cats The biggest and healthiest cats I’ve ever seen in my entire life. All kinds. There were rules, so you couldn’t pick any cats up or wake them if they were sleeping, or make them do anything that they weren’t already doing, basically. I reallllly wanted to pick one up and cuddle, but hey what’re you going to do. I was satisfied with patting the inquisitive ones that came up to say hi to us.

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We had planned to come back to Hongdae later at night to hit up some bars, cos we thought that the atmosphere would be amazing, but we never made it. Next time for sure!!

We stayed right in the city for our last night, as we had run out of points ( saddest of sad faces) and needed to be staying somewhere with an easy link to the airport for our flight out the next morning. This hotel was incredibly hard to find, and kudos to Ryan for putting up with my grumpy and tired impatience at this apparently non-existent hotel. I think if I was by myself I would have given up and slept at the airport for the night!

Some more photos from Seoul:

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Next: DMZ Tour.

 

 

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